Oh, That Wily Snake
Martin Dockery’s Oh, That Wily Snake manages to ask some fairly big questions with humour and sensitivity in a play that overlaps allegory and social commentary. What is the line between argument and coercion? What responsibility do the deceived have in their own deception? What if evil doesn’t know its own evil until it’s too late? What does that mean in an age where we have killed our own gods? These are questions that will hopefully become conversations the audience will pick up when the show is over. The play is a funny and intense piece, backed by a nuanced performance that has made it one of my festival favourites.
The allegorical adventure of Edmund (Dockery) and Edith (Vanessa Quesnelle) begins with them in spotlight, regretting what they have done. Then the two weave their way through a story that could be about the fall from Eden, or could just as easily be about desires that any of us have, and have to face. An inflatable bed becomes the centre of desire and a fall from grace at the same time.
The euphemisms are quite clever, and work either as allegory or a conversation on social and gender relations. Nevertheless, it’s funny and it works; I found myself chuckling out loud a few times during the play. Dockery and Quesnelle never overstate their performance, so the audience is pulled in as Edmund slowly pulls Edith out of ‘Eden.’ But over the length of the piece, the intensity increased and the darker questions arose, but by then I was so enchanted that I didn’t see it as incongruous. Without a good script, this would have been hard to pull off, but Dockery has clearly got the skill to accomplish this, and as actors, both Dockery and Quesnelle put everything into the performance. The subtle acting really allowed Dockery’s script to shine. He is in turns snake oil salesman and petulant child; master orator and grunting ape; and conveniently innocent of his own intentions. Quesnelle was able to show desire, deceit and regret without getting maudlin. The pair has been touring this show around North American Fringe Festivals, and it shows. Their timing was right on.
Lighting is also always important in Fringe shows, as it has to make up for what the audience might not get from their sparse set design. There were a couple of places where the lighting really helped bring the two performers together in the piece, or really isolated them, to great effect.
I’m hoping that this play makes the Pick of the Fringe, so it stays around longer and everyone gets a chance to see it. This one is definitely worth more than a look; it’s worth a conversation.